“Good ideas are common — what’s uncommon are people who’ll work hard enough to bring them about,” said Ashleigh Brilliant, an English writer and cartoonist. No doubt, many executives at Dell would agree.
Though using online media to cast about for ideas is now fairly commonplace, it wasn’t when Dell launched IdeaStorm in 2007. Since then, the company has fetched 16,000 ideas and implemented close to 500 of them, which averages to about 10 per month. If Dell was hoping to spur social media discussion, it’s done that as well — so far, there have been more than 92,000 comments on the IdeaStorm website.
As Brilliant’s quote suggests, though, the ideas themselves usually weren’t groundbreaking. When asked to recall some of the top ideas generated by the program, Bill Johnston, director of global online community at Dell, cites a partnership with (RED), the charity brand. Another top idea was hiring Cy Jervis, formerly a gadfly in the IdeaStorm community, as community manager for IdeaStorm in February.
In other words, Dell’s online experiment might be likened to its prosaic analog counterpart: the suggestion box. Richard Binhammer, a senior manager at Dell — also known as “Richard at Dell” — says there’s nothing wrong with that. “A suggestion box works,” he says. “We’re all about listening to the customer.”
True enough. Since Jeff Jarvis showed how a blogger can besmirch a corporate giant’s reputation with his famed “Dell Hell” campaign in 2005, Dell has often been cited as a model social media marketing brand. But is IdeaStorm more about mollifying social media critics than soliciting ideas? Is it more a PR exercise than anything else?
After all, ideas, even good ones, are a dime a dozen. “Ideas aren’t precious,” says Duane Bray, a partner with Ideo in New York. “It’s what you do with them is what matters.” Nevertheless, Bray is a fan of crowdsourcing: “It’s good to inject smart ideas from outside the organization.”
Binhammer dismisses the notion about IdeaStorm being more about PR than generating ideas, though he admits the social media goodwill could be a “by-product” of the effort. Whatever the case, it’s clear the program has both acted as a suggestion box and an effective social media campaign. At the moment, the changing media landscape requires that Dell add more social media hooks into IdeaStorm to ensure its continued success. Dell is busy doing just that.
When IdeaStorm launched, it was consciously modeled on Digg and was described as “a combination between a message board and Digg.com” on Dell’s blog. The site asked users to submit ideas on any topic — products and features, policy changes, you name it. Users were then invited to vote on the site, Digg-style.
At the time, Dell was one of the few companies putting itself out into social media that way. In previous years, there had been a craze for intranets, which solicited ideas and feedback from within a company. But here, consumers were being asked to weigh in as well. And Dell wasn’t the only brand taking the approach. A day before IdeaStorm launched, Yahoo rolled out Yahoo Suggestion Board, which sought to do pretty much the same thing, also while tapping the Digg model.
A few years later, there’s been a fairly widespread adoption of the IdeaStorm idea. For example, Starbucks has a thriving program called My Starbucks Idea that’s netted tends of thousands of ideas, some of which were implemented, such as free birthday beverages. President Obama also ushered in his own version of IdeaStorm, called Citizen’s Briefing Book,” in January 2009.
Since the concept of soliciting ideas online is now somewhat passe, Dell is evolving it. Last fall, the company made an effort to bring IdeaStorm into its phase two: complete social media integration. There is now an IdeaStorm Twitter feed with around 4,500 followers. There’s also Facebook integration on IdeaStorm that lets users post their ideas on their Facebook Pages, and other updates are on the way. Binhammer says the company is working on a one-time login for all of Dell’s social media-enabled websites.
The social media hooks will no doubt spur more idea generation. How does Dell keep on top of it? Binhammer says that monitoring the ideas is part of everyone’s job at Dell. “There’s no ‘Idea Politburo’ here evaluating ideas,” he says. Dell’s fans also play a big role, not just in “promoting” or “demoting” those ideas with the Digg-like interface, but by commenting on ideas that need refinement. If the ideas produce something great for Dell, that’s a major win, but having consumers feel like they’re part of the process may be the biggest benefit of all.
I liked this article for a couple reasons:
1) it talks about how good ideas are everywhere and it’s the execution that matters.
2) it talks about how Dell has opened itself up to outside influence for its innovation and how it has continually sought to improve that process.
One thing grabbed my attention – the writer (Todd Wasserman) mentions that companies using social media to solicit ideas is now fairly commonplace. I don’t know how much I agree with that, and more importantly of those that say they are soliciting ideas from the crowd – how many are actually doing something with those ideas.
So, here’s the challenge: besides MyStarbucks Idea, Ideo’s Open Challenges, the ones mentioned in the story and P&G’s Connect & Develop – what are some great examples of companies striving for open innovation? Share your thoughts.